The National Centre for Social Research is now officially carbon neutral! That means we’re actively reducing the resources we consume in the course of our work and using offsetting for any residual emissions. This is a big step and follows close on the heels of NatCen achieving ISO 14001 accreditation last autumn (the internationally-recognised standard for designing and implementing environmental management systems).
As a not-for-profit, NatCen’s primary purpose is to listen to the public and make sure their voice gets heard. That’s a mighty thing for an organisation to set out to do, but it creates a positive tension. We can’t do something which is so fundamentally good on the one hand, whilst knowingly tolerating negative impacts on the other. The organisations we work with are as sensitive to this dilemma as we are, and they want research expertise they can commission with a clear conscience.
The reality of social research is that it will often involve an interviewer working hard to make contact with members of the public at their homes and then being accommodating about return visits, to make it as easy as possible for people to take part. That inevitably comes at a price in terms of the resources consumed, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. But that has to be balanced against the cost of not putting in so much effort, a cost which would mean that some people’s voices would simply not get heard – and policy decisions which affect their lives made without their input.
We’re determined to proactively manage this balance whilst minimising our work’s impact on the environment. To that end, we’re investing heavily in technology which facilitates remote participation, whether online or via videocalls, and giving people much more of a choice about how they take part in our research. That work includes a robust methodological strand to mitigate the potential mode effects which can arise when different households, or even different individuals within the same household, respond via different modes.
We’re also investing in software which will enable our fieldworkers to plan their journeys more efficiently and thereby reduce the overall number of miles they drive. Back in the office, we’re reducing the number of laser printers we have, using e-vouchers instead of plastic giftcard incentives whenever possible, and switching our energy suppliers so that our inputs come from renewable sources.
It’s all about getting the balance right. Whatever the optimal balance is, at NatCen we want our impact on society to be great and our footprint to be small.
Simon Holroyd is the Head of NatCen's Corporate Social Responsibility Committee and also leading our environmental management efforts.
To find out more about our commitment to the environment, read our environment policy and corporate social responsibility statement.